Feasting like a Princess in Queens

“But where in New York can one find a woman with grace, elegance, taste and culture? A woman suitable for a king?”

“Queens!”

If anyone else grew up in a household with two brothers and only basic cable, you too have probably seen Coming to America over a thousand times and when the New York City borough of Queens is mentioned, this line is all that you can think of. No? Just me? Again? Alright, this is enough already.

Seriously though, we did a food excavation of Queens on our most recent trip to New York. We had overlooked the boroughs on our last trip, and it was a hole in my eating repertoire that I was ready to fill. Fill I did, with Liberian stew, Egyptian offal and three separate trips to Flushing Chinatown. For regular readers of my blog this will not be surprising. I am a little late with this post, but I wanted to report back the best of my findings.

Kabab Cafe (Astoria)

Spices on a Plate As has already been discussed in numerous places on this blog, I’m a bit of a sucker for Anthony Bourdain. I am a wee bit embarrassed by it, however it has also lead me to more than one good meal. This is one of those good meals.

As has already been discussed in numerous places in the blogosphere, there are downsides to Kabab Cafe. It can be expensive. There is no menu. The dude is crazy. It’s small. They serve weird food. All of these are right. If these are things that will turn you away from a restaurant, I do not recommend Kabab Cafe.

If you’re like me, though, and bit parts of big animals served by a mad scientist from a kitchen the size of a gas station bathroom turns you on, this is the place for you.

A big portion of my enjoyment of the place was watching the owner/chef, Ali work. Not the part when he laid into his poor assistant (a thankless job, it appeared). Rather his flicking of spices this way and that, the clatter of pans and disorganized tossing of ingredients which all made their way to my plate, turning out as great dishes.

I was taken aback upon walking in, where I was gruffly asked, nay, barked at, what I wanted to eat. I didn’t know, so I was given the option of meat or veg. I caught up to the moment and mentioned I was here for dead animal–the good parts. We were seated and given plates (shown above) of spice along with bread and hummus for dipping. Then the good stuff started coming out. First was a rich sauce of braised cheeks and hearts over lightly scrambled eggs. I use ‘over’ loosely as it was sort of an un-pretty pile of reddish lump on my plate. That said, it tasted great. None of the dishes were overly photogenic, and in fact the next three looked so alike it took in depth analysis to remember which was what. Second up, though was sweetbreads. This was the most traditional of the dishes, followed by the brains, which were a favorite of mine–these pan-fried ones were significantly better than the steamed version I’d had in Laos. Finally we had to cry uncle after a plate of kidneys–we were too full to see what the mad scientist would bring us next. The total for this,  4 smallish plates with bread and snacks plus a few drinks was around $80 in the end. Not cheap. Be prepared for this if you go. But do go if you love great meat in interesting preparations. I thought the food was delicious and the setting unique and that it was worth every penny.

Kabab Café on Urbanspoon

Maima’s Liberian Bistro

Liberian Seafood Soup at Maima's

When I first read about Maima’s it was about Liberian food and that it seemed similar to Ghanaian, a favorite of mine. I stored it in the back of my head. Then it popped up again–winning an award for being one of the spiciest foods in NYC. Again, a favorite food of mine (anything spicy). It had to be done.

Had to, despite being a little out of the way and in a neighborhood that us two were so out of place in that we got asked twice in the block between the car and the restaurant if we were lost. By the cops. We were impressed-taking preventative measures or being helpful? Unclear. Once in the restaurant we would have been out of place, had there been anyone else there. We ordered seafood soup (pictured) and chicken stew.

Aside from containing nearly an entire crab, multiple prawns, clams and a good chunk of fish, the soup had tripe, chicken feet and a pork…knuckle? I was impressed at the array of stuff in it, as a sopped it up with fufu, the thick starch it was served with. It was spicy in the best kind of way, a slow burn that works its way into every part of your mouth, including the outside, leaving you with fruit punch lips akin to that kid in elementary school. The chicken was less spicy, but possibly even more flavorful–the underlying richness in these foods, the warmth and flavor that is cooked into them really sets them apart. A pair of gentleman in cable company uniforms sat at one of the other tables. They held their giggles at our tears of pain and joy regarding the spice level and asked us if we were enjoying it. We were. They were from Liberia, they told us, and loved the food at Maima’s. It was just like what their mama would make in Africa. If that is not what an immigrant cuisine restaurant can strive for, I’m not sure what is. All I know is that I’d like to borrow a Liberian mama (Maima?) to start a restaurant in Seattle.

Maima's Liberian Bistro on Urbanspoon

Xi’an Fine Foods

Xi'an Fine Foods Noodles Xi’an Fine Foods is no news to people in New York. I’d like to hope that anyone who truly loves great food wouldn’t find it news either. The shop we went to is in the basement of the Flushing Mall (Mall being a loosely used term). Zigging and zagging through a maze of deliciousness, we got distracted by a dumpling here, a soup there, before we got to this stand. Lamb hand pulled noodles were the only thing on my mind. Until I looked at the menu, then I wanted everything. But I was there for the noodles, and I’d found to many distractions on my way in to afford more stomach room.

Those noodles? the most friendly little texture a noodle ever did have. Filling my mouth with big thick noodle, then chewing apart with the lightest of toothy touches. The flavor stood up to the texture, spicy, savory, that combination of middle-eastern cumin edge with bright, popping Chinese cooking techniques. This is the noodle dish that (my) dreams are made of.

Xi'an Famous Foods on Urbanspoon

Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao

We actually ended up going here twice by accident. That was a very happy accident. Disappointed that New Yeah Shanghai House, our favorite soup dumplings, or XLB, seemed to have closed, we had researched what the next best might be and come up with Nan Xiang. We went, just the two of us, and really enjoyed them. I didn’t think they were as good as New Yeah, but I did like it better than those from Joe’s Shanghai and a number of others in New York.

A few days later we were headed back to Flushing Chinatown with my friend T., a Flushing native–in fact, her dad owns a restaurant in the area, which has sadly been closed every time I’ve been in town! I’ve had his food though–me, her fathers lobster sauce and a 5 hour drive. It was not pretty. Right, back to Nan Xiang. T. was excited to bring us to her favorite XLB spot in the hood, which was, of course…Nan Xiang. She felt bad that we had already been, but us, having been already, were not complaining. The food was again great, this time we were able to branch out and try a few more things. I wasn’t a fan of their other dumplings, but the noodles and the rice cake dishes were both excellent.

Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao Soup Dumpling House on Urbanspoon

And then…

We found a giant pile of frozen awesome

It was almost 100 degrees out and this was mango flavored frozen awesome from a basement of a mall behind Nan Xiang.

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Taylor Shellfish Mussels and Bluebird Grains Farrotto for $4 Each

After an hour of stirring the brown lump of nothingness, it was the final five minutes that suddenly transformed it into a meal. What was plain and ugly became something so beautiful that I couldn’t help but snap a quick photo before I set it on the table.

And of course, once I had the picture, I had to share it. Because this dish? It’s simple as shit. And simply delicious. And a fantastic value

As we ate the meal, I couldn’t help but think about the value of our farmers market. I had paid $8 for two pounds of mussels. About half of that fed the two of us for dinner. Which is $2 per person. Add in about $1 per person for the farro. The rest of the ingredients had negligible costs: Homemade stock, salt, butter butter and parsley, which came from our garden. We’ll call it a dollar for all that. Total cost of this amazing meal? $4 per person.

The monetary cost is one thing but the value of the mussels and local farmers market vendors is what struck me. I paid the $8 for the mussels, which is maybe a little more than you’d pay at your local grocery store. On the other hand, seafood can be questionable at a local store-not because they aren’t necessarily taking care, but there is that extra step. Whatever the reason, I’ve never bought seafood at the farmer’s market that was anything less than the best I’ve ever had of that particular item. These mussels were no exception. The Taylor Shellfish stand is a treasure of our treasured farmer’s markets and tonight’s meal was a reminder of that.

Unfortunately I did no measuring as I made this, but it is so simple that I hope you’ll try it and trust yourself to cook it!

Sauté chopped whites of leeks, an onion, a few cloves of garlic, and the farro (I adore Bluebird farms for their grain in much the same way I adore Taylor Shellfish for their goodies) in a little bit of butter. Over medium heat, add stock about a cup at a time, stirring constantly, waiting each time until the liquid is absorbed, for an hour. At that point, add the mussels and let sit for 5 minutes. You can stir a little if you have a lot of mussels and they’re in two layers. Add in the parsley and let them cook until they shrink up a little. Salt to taste and serve!

Small Wonders of Summer, Part 2: Anchovies

Berebere Dusted Pan Fried Anchovies

Berebere Dusted Pan Fried Anchovies

“I’ll be on Capitol Hill later, I’ll drop them off” My anchovy guy said to me. Who was my anchovy guy? Well, his name is John, and he goes by “CoastalRovers” on twitter. That was about the sum of my knowledge when I gave him the address. Sure enough, he showed up shortly there after with a trunk full of fresh fishies (and god knows what all else). “Big or small?” He asked me. With no knowledge of fresh anchovies, pulled that day from the ocean, I guessed big. I handed over my $6 and watched him fill up my giant tupperware. Then he threw in many extra small ones, for good measure. It was a great measure, actually, since the small ones I didn’t even bother cleaning before pan frying.

For the next three days, it was anchovies for breakfast and lunch (dinners had already been planned). While the work of cleaning the larger ones was arduous–and messy, it was completely worth it. I had doubted myself when I first decided to buy there, and looking at the pile of little fish in my fridge wasn’t exactly inspiring me to get on with it, but I think I might have developed a bit of an addiction. I can’t wait for him to come back with another shipment!

Berebere Dusted Fresh Anchovies, Pan-Fried

Anchovies
Whole Wheat Flour (or regular, if it is all you have)
Berebere
Salt
Oil

There are no amounts for this recipe, because it is truly simple. Start heating the oil. You want it to come up about half a centimeter in the pan. Mix a little salt, flour and just enough berebere (Any spice mix would work as well, Garam Masala, Creole, you name it) to be able to see the specks of color in the flour. Wash and dry the anchovies (clean the larger ones by slitting down the middle and pulling out guts). Dredge the fish through the flour mixture. If you cleaned the fish, make sure it gets inside, too. When your oil is hot (at least 325 degrees), drop in 2-3 fish at a time. Leave them be for about a minute per side for smaller ones, up to two for larger ones, then flip over and repeat. When you pull them from the oil, drain on a rack, and if you’d like up the flavor by sprinkling with more salt and berebere.

The Summer of Scallops

I bought a package of scallops at the farmers market a few weeks ago and made them into a delicious dinner. For weeks, I’ve come home to my computer and admired the lovely pictures, remembered the soft crunch of the sea beans over the creamy tartare, and said to myself “I should really post these to the blog,”

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Yet, it’s been busy at work and I’ve spent what time I’ve been home trying to remember what my name is and how it sounds with out “On Safari Foods, This is,” in front of it. Not to complain, because busy is far better than not, but then last night I was out at the incredible Guest Chef on the Waterfront event and had not one but two preparations of scallops, a reminder that I still had yet to post my pictures. Including not one, but two preparations of scallops.

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Scallop Tartare (Top)

2 large scallops
3 leaves shiso
1 leaf mint
8 or so sea beans
Black Truffle Oil (a few drops, optional)
Salt (pinch)
Pepper (two or three grinds worth)
Olive oil (less then a teaspoon)

Hand chop the scallops so they are in small but slightly irregular chunks. Chop the leaves and sea beans until very small pieces, but still identifiable, mix with salt, pepper and olive oil and sprinkle in a single layer into a ramekin. Press the scallops on top of that layer of leaves etc., cover with plastic wrap and put it into the fridge for about half an hour. When you remove it, take off the plastic and in one fell swoop, turn it upside down onto a plate, hitting the ramekin on the plate. Sprinkle with truffle oil for extra deliciousness–truffles love scallops!

Quick Sauteed Scallops with Garlic Scape Pesto (Bottom)

1 bunch garlic scapes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 handful seabeans
4 large scallops

Blend the scapes, the olive oil and the sea beans to a pesto like texture, then heat the sauce in a frying pan. When it is hot, take it off heat, toss scallops in the sauce and serve. The scallops are barely tinged by the heat, but it gives it a slightly cooked texture, which is nice.

Breaking Out the Deep Fryer: Razor Clams

imgp4310As the recently minted owner of a deep fryer, I felt there was only one thing I could do with my little babies when I came home from clamming with a full limit of razor clams.

The clamming itself required getting up early, a long drive, some hard physical labor and not falling asleep on the drive home. The cooking itself required taming the squirmy beasts long enought to clean out their innards–which sometimes had (safe!) worms or crabs hanging out in them. Yeah, it still makes my tummy turn. I squealed. But then, then it gets to be more fun. Definitely check out my partner in crime, FoodBat, who has a brilliantly illustrated post on these parts of the clamming journey. My first bite of the foot or digger, I crunched through the breading, and the clam itself, flavored of the sea, yet pillow-like in texture. It reminded me of the soft fried tofu like in agedashi-dofu, but with the taste of an oyster. These were good. We also tested out a body, which had this al dente bite, almost a crunch, with a fair amount of chew–the only thing I can liken it to is geoduck, which I realize doesn’t help too many people out! After eating our test clams, we realized we’d need a sauce, so I whipped up some homemade horseradish mayonnaise.

When our friends arrived (about 5 of my 15 clams easily fed the four of us) we fried up the rest, as well as an entire taro root, chopped into french fries. Pause, let me talk about taro–it is freaking delicious! Why is it not used more? I’m not sure, but I think I’m about to start. It has this naturally savory flavor like the sweet potato has that natural sweetness. That’s it, it is the savory potato!

imgp4294Here’s the taro fries, all chopped up and waiting to go into the oil!

Fried Razor Clams

5 Clams, cut into 2 inch pieces for easy eating
Whole Wheat Flour
2 Eggs
Berebere (or cayenne or other spice of choice)
Salt

Line up three bowls, one with flour, one with egg and one with flour, spice and salt. dip each piece in order, into the three bowls, then fry them in oil. We deep fried, but pan frying should work just as well if you don’t have one.

A Fabulous Northwest Weekend

It was raining slightly on my run this morning, but now the bright sun is shining through my office window. It is so typical Seattle, and I just love it. Like I love so many things about my city, including so much of my weekend.

This was my first weekend not coaching ski racing, my first days off in many months (since the snow started falling) and I was eager to get outside and enjoy the many things that are on offer here. It was such a fabulous collection of awesome activities that I’m posting here so you can remember how great where we live is…

First thing Saturday morning, we sauntered up the street for brunch at Barrio. I enjoyed my first vist, so when they invited me to be their guest for brunch, I took them up. Look for a review to come.

From there, I hopped on my bike, with one quick stop to make before heading to the University District Farmer’s Market–a big issue with working on weekends in the winter is I absolutely never get to go to Farmer’s Markets! My friend K had called me on Friday from a field of nettles–“Do you want some? What should I pick?” She asked. “Yes, and the babies!” I answered. Biked by her place and picked up the giant bag, threw them in the pack and headed to the market. Came home with a small but delicious haul that I started using right away.

While my bread, made from Hard Red Whole Wheat flour from Bluebird Grains, proofed, I cleaned my fridge. While it baked, I took the nettles, combined them with some mint from the market and made a delicious, thick, almost more dip like than sauce like pesto. When these were done, I packed them both, along with a little pate from Sea Breeze farms into a bag and they served as dinner, while we sat on the edge of our seats, watching the Seattle Sounders take down the San Jose Earthquakes.

Sunday morning the alarm went off bright and early, and I packed up the car and headed to the coast for a few good hours of Razor clam digging! Expect a tasty, clammerific post to come on those puppies. Returning at mid-day, I had just enough time for a much needed shower and quick power nap before heading to Puget Soundkeepers Alliance’s wonderful, amazing and delicious Oyster Roast! With Xinh making coleslaw and cheerfully shucking raw oysters for the masses, we knew we were getting fed well before I even wandered outside to run into Jon Rowley manning the grills!

What a perfect weekend! Spring in the Northwest is here and I hope to have many more like this to come.

A Few Upcoming and Kind of Awesome Events

I don’t normally devote much space to events, despite the constant influx of emails telling me about them, mostly because I don’t believe in promoting events that I wouldn’t myself attend or be attending. And then sometimes I am scared they’ll sell out before I get my ticket. But there does seem to be quite a few things coming up that I’m excited about, so I wanted to give my readers a heads up, two of which I’ll be at and one of which I’m sad to say, I’ll miss out on by being out of town.

First off is this Sunday’s Oyster Roast for the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. They had me when they mentioned shovelling oysters onto platters. I didn’t even need to make it to the part when they talked about sausages and sides. And it even looks like it should be as close to beach going weather as we get around here this time of year, so that should make the event even more awesome.

Next Wednesday I’ll be supporting my neighborhood at the International District Spring Roll. I love living just to the side of the ID and spend a good portion of my eating life in it. The neighborhood does a ton of cool events to support the improvement of the area and local charities and I always try to be a part of them. One of my favorites was last summer’s night market, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that they’ll be doing more this summer!

Lastly, I told you last week about how much I enjoyed the St. Germain Cocktail Crawl, and I just noticed they’ll be doing the same thing on Sunday, May 10th, but with Champagne as the ‘secret ingredient’. You can get tickets via Brown Paper Tickets. I was a little sad to see that they are using the same four restaurants, because I really enjoyed getting to go to places I hadn’t been, and now I’ve been to them. That said, if I were in town, I’d definitely be in for another round. Unfortunately, I’ll be doing a little wine tasting out in Walla Walla and will have to skip this. It’s a rough life, you know?

I hope you get a chance to attend these, and if so, come say hi or leave me a comment here letting me know how it was.